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BRINGING THE KINGDOM OF GOD

Nothing has changed my life like discovering the Kingdom of God.  It’s sad that I didn’t really understand it until I was 33 years of age.  I knew what it was to be a good “moral” person and a good Baptist, but I really didn’t get the Kingdom of God.  I knew the Gospel of salvation, got my ticket stamped and practiced moral self-improvement – but I knew little of how the Kingdom changes everything.  The Kingdom starts from the inside out.  The Kingdom is what Jesus came preaching.  He didn’t start out by telling everyone exactly who he was, instead he said, “Do you know that you were created for more than you are experiencing and life is supposed to be better than what you see?”

For me, it was on a hill praying one day that I first heard the voice of the uninvited Holy Spirit whisper in my ear, “Bob, when will be Jesus be enough?”  Why wasn’t he enough?  I accepted Jesus and jumped through all the hoops but still didn’t see like he intended.  One day, when I’m very old, and hopefully still sane, a book about the Kingdom of God will be the last book I write – I’m still learning too much and fear writing this one too soon.  Here are some things I’ve learned about the Kingdom . . .

#1  The Kingdom of God is the internal expression of God within a person and the public expression of God to humanity.  The Kingdom has to first start inside of us.  It transforms us gradually, it isn’t a quick fix but each step depends on the previous step – it’s all connected.  The Kingdom is the present Jesus and his rule lining my life up with all that he teaches, has given me, the identity I have in him, and the freedom I experience.  But it cannot stop here!  Sadly, this is as far as it gets in those few who become obsessed with the Kingdom.  The Kingdom isn’t static and we aren’t containers of the Kingdom but channels of the Kingdom to flow through.  The Kingdom is to be present in all things, not just people – as Colossians 1:15-20 says. 

#2  The Kingdom of God transcends every life plan and preconceived notion of what God is going to do.  I knew how to grow the church, and frankly I did it quite well.  I just didn’t know how to be the church.  Dealing with people of other religions? Only a realization of the Kingdom of God would lead someone like me into that.  God loves all and wants all to hear.  The Kingdom leads us to ask, “how do we speak publicly about Jesus?”  And even more importantly, “How do others see our love for them?”  Only God could take someone like me and lead our church to become multi-ethnic.  Only God could make me love the crazy people I love – because he first loved Crazy Bob.

#3  The Kingdom of God is present at all times in all places.  I’m not taking the Kingdom anywhere – it’s already everywhere.  How do I flow with the Kingdom where it has a stronger presence?  How do people feel blessed from the presence of Kingdom citizens?  My job is not to be God.  My job is to abide in God so he can do through me what his glory creates and not fulfill my little dreams of self.  Modern Christianity is living according to your dreams for God, ancient present Christianity is living for the glory of God. These two aspects are radically different.  Most books for pastors are written to help you with your dream – which is fleeting.  Only the Glory of God is eternal.  Live for that reality young pastor and God will take you so far beyond your dreams and you’ll thank him for it. 

#4  The message of Jesus is the Kingdom of God is here, now, and within you.  My question is not what will God do in the future but how am I letting the Kingdom live in this moment as I meet this person, as invitations come.  I’ve learned that the invitations God gives us are often not the ones we would choose for ourselves and even can be costly – but they are the ones that matter the most.   God will never be experienced inside the lines we draw and the structures of religion.

#5  The Kingdom of God cannot be stopped by men without God or forced by men who think they speak for God.  The nations figure so prominently in the Scriptures.  My ancestors have fought in the American Revolution, the Alamo, the Civil War, and WWII – but NO NATION can ever be confused or equal with the Kingdom of God be it the United States or Israel.  He loves all nations – and his people are to be lights in all nations of an eternal kingdom that transcends nations.  Some Christians believe in something called “dominion” theology – they are going to take over things for Jesus.   When we have to stoop to the methods of the world to bring about the Kingdom of God – no doubt we have brought a kingdom – but not the one of God.  The reconciling, peacemaking nature of Jesus, the Sovereignty of Father God, and the power of the Holy Spirit really is sufficient for transformation.  Will it be complete in my life?  No, but may I be totally transformed in him more and more day by day to bring that Kingdom everywhere I live. 

Leadership That Engages The World

People always want to know “how’ to do city engagement and global engagement. I get it. Folks want to know the steps to take to do what’s in their heart to do or to replicate something they have witnessed in others. 

Bob Roberts said it best a few days ago in a blog he wrote when he said, “Everyone wants a five-step plan to engage the nations.  I resist doing it that way.  Detailed plans and programs may initialize some good stuff, but they get in the way of the awesome and radical work that God really wants to do.” – Bob Roberts

It’s difficult to capture in a “how to” manual what God has done through Three Rivers Church in our city and the world.  What I have been able to capture are some principles of leadership for the person who wants to engage their city and their world.  I’d like to share three principles with you that have been a great help to me in our local and global work. 

First, the leader has to be restless over sin and its effects on people and created order.

If the only thing that moves a person is the potential to do something significant, they will fail when hard times come. In other words, we can’t seek to engage simply because we want significance. What has to move a leader is the effects of sin on people and in creation.

Our church started and leads Global Impact, an NGO that works in our town and in some hard places around the world. Locally, we have worked for years with the local and state government in foster care and adoption. That work has led to the city of Rome partnering with us to help alleviate this crisis by giving us one of it’s elementary schools to operate in as a hub for foster care and adoption services. We don’t own a building to meet in as a church, but the city has given us an entire elementary school to operate our NGO out of. How did that happen? A desire to do something significant? No.

By God’s providential grace, I heard a statistic about our town regarding the number of kids in foster care. Our little northwest Georgia county rivaled metro Atlanta counties in number of kids in the care of the state. At the time, we had over 500 children in our county in care with less than 10 approved homes to keep them in. That meant that the great majority of our babies, and teens and children we being shipped all over the state of Georgia to temporary beds until they could be placed permanently or reunified with biological parents. That is crazy traumatic. Can you imagine a child being taken overnight from their home, school and familiarity to some place totally unfamiliar?

I began to make this information known, began recruiting foster parents and adoptive parents, and soon I found myself appointed by our city to the Department of Family and Children Services Board of Directors for Rome/Floyd County (I continue to serve that Board as the Chairman for Rome/Floyd County). 

Then the unthinkable happened…The Spirit spoke James 1:27 to me personally. “Don’t call yourself mine when you don’t obey my word.” Our passion led to our personal involvement. Long, complicated and hard story short — our third child was fostered and adopted out of the neighborhood that our elementary school is located in. We had to get our skin in the game. It’s one thing to talk about engagement. It’s another thing to get in at the hard level.

All of this led to many years of blood, sweat and tears and then success. The job is not done, we are only beginning to be super effective 10 years into the work, but it started by being bothered by the problem and then moved to action.

So, what is a challenge you need to address personally? Get after it, and watch God do his work with you as an instrument and ambassador.

Next, the leader has to set the example in domain engagement.

I recognize that this point represents somewhat of a paradigm shift for many thinking about ministry and pastoring and church planting. Since the church is not a domain of society, but rather should be manifest in every domain of society as the gospel of the kingdom makes disciples, should the leader not lead in domain engagement?

Our strategy dictated that our pastors work jobs. I am an educator. I love teaching. Three Rivers Church is 15 years old. I taught for 10 of those years. In my profession, I had the honor of teaching foster kids and adoptive kids. I learned about the effects of trauma on a child’s ability to learn. I learned how to adjust to those kid’s learning styles. I learned that great work needs to be done in education, law enforcement and medicine to learn how to serve children who have been traumatized. Those guys simply don’t learn the same way, respond to stimulus the same way or receive correction the same way. These things radically shaped the manifestation of our church and has made us lean and effective in our town and around the world. I now am “full-time” in our church, but the growth and reputation for such a ministry was pounded out by working in my domain.

There are many implications here, but what I’m saying is that we have to lead by example. Our leadership has to be more than words. If we will do these simple things, it’s astounding what the Lord will do with that sacrifice. He takes little and makes much with it. Focus on being a change agent, and the Lord will work that into city and global significance.

Finally, we have to be and do what God puts in front of us and be satisfied with it.

Honest and gut level truth: I find myself looking at what Bob gets to do and wonder what I’m doing wrong. Bob is in nice suits, meeting with well-educated people, hanging with prominent folks, changing the world. I find myself in the back of diesel Toyotas in a war zones (with no planning for this on my own simply what got handed to me trying to survive and getting in the first cab that looked like it didn’t want to kill me) with a pastor who is asking me what I do and if I can help him, in tents in the African bush dodging black mambas and hail storms and witch doctors and overt demonic attacks, altitude sick at 17k feet with no shred of civilization in sight and nothing but a Buddhist temple and a squatty potty for relief. I have health challenges that will be with me forever due to some of the places I’ve been and results of the work. What did I do wrong? Is Jesus punishing me for that thing I did when I was 15? No.

Seriously though, nothing I find myself doing looks anything like anybody else’s work. I’ve tried to conform, but it won’t happen. I’m the guy who gets to be sick, nearly die and live to tell about it, and see little fruit. You know what? That’s ok. I’m living the dream.

All that to say, don’t try to be someone else. Be who God created you to be, stay hidden if you can, and enjoy the ride he’s created for you to take. Ephesians 2:10 is a great help to me, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

I didn’t get to pick my good works. Jesus prepared them for me, and I get the joy of discovering them and joyfully doing them. I’m thankful for that.

[Mitch Jolly will be sharing even more leadership principles at the GlocalNet Family Gathering November 8-9]